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Motorist claims 'panic' caused him to flee fatal accident scene

Cyclist sruck and killed

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A Winnipeg motorist claims it was "panic" which caused him to flee the scene after he struck and killed a cyclist — and says he will forever regret the cowardly choice he made.

Mike Haines, 27, pleaded guilty to a charge of careless driving under the Highway Traffic Act, and an additional count of leaving the scene of an accident under the Criminal Code. The Crown agreed to drop a more serious charge of criminal negligence causing death.

Haines was in court Friday for sentencing, where the Crown requested up to nine months behind bars. Defence lawyer Mike Cook argued that a hefty fine, probation and community service would be a better alternative. Provincial court Judge Ray Wyant has reserved his decision.

"There are no words I can express to let you know how sorry I am," Haines told the victim’s husband, two children and two grandchildren who were in court. "Who would know two to three seconds could change people’s lives forever?"

The 42-year-old victim, Linda Preston, was riding her bike in the early-morning hours of June 17, 2010, when she was struck by a vehicle near the intersection of Main Street and Sutherland Avenue. She was rushed to hospital but died of her injuries. An autopsy revealed Preston was intoxicated at the time with more than triple the maximum blood-alcohol level allowed to drive a vehicle. She was also wearing dark clothing and had no reflective lights on her bike.

However, Haines admits he took his eyes off the road for several seconds and never saw Preston in his path. Her body slammed against his windshield and flew nearly 10 metres through the air, court was told. That’s when Haines elected to drive away from the scene, albeit temporarily. He travelled several blocks, removed an unopened case of beer from his car and then returned to the area six minutes after the crash.

"He thought it would look bad to have a case of beer in his vehicle," Cook told court Friday. But he said his client hadn’t consumed a single sip of alcohol that night and was on his way home from working at a local hotel.

"Every day he’s going to look in the mirror and see the reflection of the person who killed Linda Preston. I don’t think he’s ever going to be able to shake this," said Cook.

Haines confessed to police, telling them he never saw the woman on the bicycle until it was too late. He admits to panicking and leaving the scene, only to return once he quickly cleared his head and realized he’d have to own up to his mistake.

"I was freaking out, I didn’t know what was going on. It was surreal. I can’t believe I took someone’s life away," Haines told officers at the scene.

Crown attorney Jeff Nichols said Friday a strong message must be sent to Haines, and other motorists, that this sort of conduct will have serious consequences.

"A punitive sanction that involves jail is necessary," he said.

Haines doesn’t come before the courts with clean hands. He was convicted in May 2010 of stealing more than $5,000 cash that a customer at his hotel had left behind in a room. He was given a 15-month suspended sentence with probation, which had just started when the tragedy happened a few weeks later.

Haines has been free on bail since the incident, has full-time employment and strong support from family and friends, court was told.

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